San Francisco Bay Area-based musical group Sugar Candy Mountain released their first widely distributed release December 16 with Mystic Hits — a space-age blast of psychedelic pop and Tropicalia that sounds like it could have reverberated right out of Phil Spector’s echo chamber. Initially self-released by the band in late 2013, Royal Oakie Tapes & Records out of Oakland, California, gavethe album a proper physical release on glorious vinyl and cool cassette tape.
Originally the bedroom recording project of singer/songwriter/multi- instrumentalist Will Halsey (an SF Bay Area native and music-scene veteran who has played with all sorts of groups, including The Blank Tapes and Papercuts) Sugar Candy Mountain has truly taken on a life of its own. Now fronted by Halsey and singer-songwriter Ash Reiter, the group has grown to become a full-fledged live ensemble and a loosely knit collection of friends who help fill-out the recordings with their groovy sounds.
Halsey began recording Mystic Hits while staying in Sao Paulo, Brazil and finished the record at home in Oakland. Truly a delight to the senses, the album features far-out artwork by acclaimed artist and long- time friend of the band Jess Willa Wheaton and 13 tracks of psychedelic pop bliss. Anchored by the dual male/female vocals of Halsey and Reiter, the songs weave in and out of tempos and timbres like a lysergic daydream on a summer’s afternoon.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Will and Ash to discuss Mystic Hits. This is what they told us.
When did you begin writing the material for Mystic Hits?
Will: We began writing songs shortly after we released our record Hola with our other band Ash Reiter in 2012. I was touring with The Blank Tapes in Brazil. I wrote four songs down there and recorded some of them at the apartment I was staying at. We often find the time and inspiration to write while on vacation or the road.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
Will: Most of the songs came together naturally with little difficulty, however, “Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit” was a challenge to record because I knew I wanted four different tempos for the song and didn’t have time to rehearse it with the band because it was one of the last songs to make it on the record. So Ash and I pieced it together one part at a time and recorded the drums and bass last to tie all the changes together. It was a lot of fun and worth all the calculated planning to record drums last. I heard that when Mick Avory recorded drums for The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society album he had only a vague or no idea of what the vocals were going be. I love the drumming on that record and that technique has worked out for us too, however it’s exciting to hear a little symphony of sound while tracking drums, with all the parts laid out for me I can approach the songs with more conviction.
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song.
Will: I initially thought “Knock Me Down” would be more of stripped down, dry production but we got a little carried away in the overdubbing/experimenting process and just went with it. “Echopraxia” is essentially three improvised jams. I just pushed record when I heard something I liked while playing with Ash and my friend Patrick Doherty, then faded them together in the mixing process.
Ash: That song was especially cool because we went into it with no concept for a song at all. I was just trying to find a tone reminiscent of that velcro kind of fuzz you hear on Os Mutantes records. That little jam became “Echopraxia.” Often however we spend a lot of time conceiving a song before we sit down to record. I find it can often be useful to perform the song in front of an audience for a while before committing to a structure. Sometimes in the heat of the moment interesting things bubbles up.
The band is mainly comprised of Will and Ash. Is it just the two of you when you play out? Or do you beef up the band with auxiliary musicians? Seems like it would be hard for two people to make all that noise.
Ash: While it’s mostly just Will and I writing the songs we have a whole cast of talented friends that chip in on the recordings including Matt Adams (The Blank Tapes), Jason Quever (Papercuts), Matt Lundquist (Ottomobile and the Moaners), Dave Glasebrook (Deep Ellum) and many more. For our live band we have Tom Edler who is great bass player and master of all styles. Bryant Denison plays guitar. Originally he learned bass to go on tour with our other band Ash Reiter but he is guitar player first and has great memory for all the weird little parts we come up with and comes up many cool parts of his own. Mike Fortes plays the keys and sings back up vocals he’s great at playing the essential parts as well adding harmonies to our songs. Will plays the drums and sings lead. I play the guitar and also sing. Also my collection of pedals help us “make all that noise” both in the studio and on stage.
Since this record, in your eyes anyway, is over a year old, do you already have plans on a follow up?
Will: The next record is about 90 percent recorded and mixed. We’ve been enjoying recording at Jason Quever’s (Papercuts) studio so much that we keep bringing new songs to record. Ash: It’s almost becoming a problem because now we have so much material and it’s really hard to decide which songs to cut from the album. Each song has its own merits but we’re really trying to find the group of songs that make sense together, or at least make sense to us. This process means that some of the songs we wrote three years ago might not be released for another three years and songs that we finished writing last week might be released on our next record.
(Visit Sugar Candy Mountain here: https://sugarcandymountain.bandcamp.com/.)